Bird flu: cull extended

By MICHAEL POLLITTRural affairs editorTurkey flocks at three farms in Norfolk will be culled later today as a precaution to prevent the possible spread of the deadly H5N1 bird flu from the Suffolk centre of infection.

By MICHAEL POLLITT

Rural affairs editor

Turkey flocks at three farms in Norfolk will be culled later today as a precaution to prevent the possible spread of the deadly H5N1 bird flu from the Suffolk centre of infection.

Defra's acting chief vet, Dr Fred Landeg, said that 22,000 free-range turkeys on three farms and another flock close to Park Farm, Redgrave - where the disease was found on Sunday - will be slaughtered.

The four flocks were deemed as “dangerous contacts” because staff running the free-range organic farm could have been exposed to the highly-pathogenic strain of bird flu.

While birds have shown no signs of disease, Defra will cull flocks at Stone House Farm, West Harling; Bridge Farm, Pulham Market; Hill Meadow, Knettishall and Grove Farm, Botesdale.

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Geoffrey Buchanan, operations director of Gressingham Foods' subsidiary, Redgrave Poultry, said: “There is a direct link between Redgrave Park farm and these four other farms as they share the same farming staff.”

“Despite biosecurity measures when entering and leaving the farms and the fact that there are no results to indicate the presence of avian influenza at these farms, Defra has decided that there is a possibility of a direct link,” he added.

This follows the cull of 6,500 turkeys, ducks and geese at Park Farm, where the firm's own vet raised the alarm when 60 turkeys in a flock of 1,000 were found dead. Defra's Animal Health officials took samples and bird flu was confirmed on Monday and identified as H5N1 the next day.

Mr Buchanan, who runs the Woodbridge-based poultry firm with his brother, William, said: “While naturally saddened to see so many birds culled, we fully agree that the primary concern has to be the containment of the outbreak.”

The free-range flocks at Redgrave had been reared in grass paddocks during the day and housed at night to reduce contact with wild birds on a nearby lake. All feed and water was provided indoors to discourage wild birds and the 5,000 turkeys were kept from the lake by electric fencing, empty ground and a farm road.

The last H5N1 outbreak in February, which saw 159,000 birds culled at the Bernard Matthews' turkey farm at Holton, near Halesworth, was blamed on wild birds but Defra later concluded that imported meat from Hungary was the most likely source of infection.

Mr Buchanan said that no turkey poults were imported and all were produced from hatcheries in the UK. And the Pekin ducks were all hatched and reared in Britain, he added.

Pamela Forbes, regional director of the National Farmers' Union, said: “Poultry farming is a major contributor to the region's economy and everything must be done to protect it and the 15,000 jobs that depend on it.”

East Anglia has more than 900 poultry farms, producing about 2.2 million eggs every day and a quarter of England's table chicken.

The Food Standards Agency says there are no risks from eating poultry meat and eggs provided they are cooked properly.

As the EDP reported yesterday, there are 4.01 million poultry within a six-mile radius of the Redgrave farm. A further 25 million are in the wider restricted area.

Dr Landeg has said the disease in the latest outbreak is closely related to one found in birds in the Czech Republic and Germany in the summer but that officials were keeping an open mind about the possible spread.

Heather Peck, Defra's regional operations director, said that sampling had been carried out on the first of the four farms ahead of the cull expected to start today.

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